The Signing of Dan Haren and What's Left for the Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season
What do Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera have in common? Besides all of them being Hall of Fame level pitchers the answer is that they are the only pitchers of the modern era that rank higher than Dan Haren in career K/BB ratio. When you think of what a pitcher controls there are few better than Dan Haren at striking batters out and not walking guys. When looking at Dan Haren you are looking at a pitcher who has average 4.7 fWAR over the last eight seasons and in seven of those has pitched more than 200 innings. Haren has a career 3.66 ERA and 3.64 FIP.
Looking at those numbers it can be questioned as to how the Nationals were able to snag him on a one year $13 mil deal. The answer is 2012 was the worst year of his career where he was worth only 1.8 fWAR in 176 2/3 innings with a 4.33 ERA and 4.24 FIP. Haren's K/9 and BB/9 were in line with his career averages but he gave up nearly half a homer more per nine innings than he has for his career. The reason for this may have something to do with the fact that his velocity is on the decline.
In 2007 Haren's fastball averaged 91.8 MPH and in 2012 it was all the way down to 84.5 peaking at 88.5. This could be chalked up to his back issues but it is a steady decline dropping nearly a MPH per year from 2007 to 2012. Dan Haren has other pitches and has a chance to be a decent starter, but the Dan Haren of old may be a thing of the past.
The good thing for the Nationals is they don't need another Ace level pitcher. They have a great top three with Strasburg, Gio, and Zimmermann. All the Nats need Haren to do is to be better than Edwin Jackson. Here lies the problem. If the declining velocity and the injury concerns rear their ugly head and Haren has a repeat of 2012 then he won't be better than Edwin Jackson. Jackson was worth 2.7 fWAR in 2012 while Haren was worth 1.8. This signing comes with a lot of risks and both the Cubs and Red Sox turned Haren away due to concerns about his recent injuries. The fact remains though that Haren's career numbers are borderline Hall of Fame worthy, he is only 32, and if he can pitch anything like the Dan Haren of 2005-2011 at $13 mil this deal is a bargain.
As far as what the Nats have left to do in the 2013 off-season the priority is now re-signing LaRoche. Assuming nothing and looking at the 25 man roster as it stands right now the Nats would head to Opening Day looking something like this:
The Nats are fairly well off in most aspects except for left handed power and in the bullpen. Re-signing LaRoche would add the lefty power bat and the Nats still need bullpen depth. With Christian Garcia currently the Nats number six starter he will likely begin the season starting in AAA to be called up in case of emergency, but don't count him out of the bullpen mix either. Injury or no Henry Rodriguez was underwhelming in 2012 and with Bill Bray on only a minor league deal the Nats could sign another lefty like Mike Gonzalez or Randy Choate. The Nats may also look to add a couple of the non-tendered starters like Mike Pelfry to a minor league deal for emergency depth because pitchers get hurt and it is very likely the Nats will need to use a sixth or even seventh starter as the season progresses.
The Dan Haren move comes with risks, but pitching is risk and if he is anything like his career averages the Nats got a steal. The downside though is they will be paying $13 mil to a guy to sit on the bench when they could have back loaded a deal for Sanchez or Lohse and delayed the risk to future seasons.